A New Frontier

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By the time anyone said it out loud, it had been known for hours--if not weeks. But that did not mute reaction from the hundreds of Missouri fans assembled in the Mizzou Student Center on Sunday evening which chanted "M-I-Z-S-E-C" in anticipation of the official declaration.
"We are pleased and we are proud to welcome you to the family of the Southeastern Conference," SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the crowd. "Welcome to your new home."
With an announcement on Sunday morning around 9:30, the University of Missouri officially left the Big 12 and was accepted as the 14th member of the SEC. It was stated repeatedly that Mizzou expected to join the SEC on July 1, 2012.
"We're hopeful that we're past that," Chancellor Brady Deaton said when asked about hurdles in leaving the Big 12 and joining the SEC by next summer. Deaton did not say those hurdles were necessarily cleared, nor have final exit fees been negotiated. But he reiterated Mizzou's intentions to start competition in the SEC next summer.
Slive said discussions with Missouri started "very early in the football season ... Missouri contacted us and conversations began at that point."
Slive said the league's presidents and chancellors voted to add Mizzou unanimously. The Tigers' athletic teams will be members of the SEC's East Division. Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are currently in that division.
"I grew up a Mizzou fan," said Bernie Machen, the president of the University of Florida, the chair of the SEC's Board of Directors and a Webster Groves High School alumnus. "I'm still a Mizzou fan. And other than when you play the Gators, I'll always be a Mizzou fan."
Machen alluded to the fact that the first game between the Gators and Tigers would be next year. It could be in either Gainesville or Columbia. Slive said the conference's transition team is working on scheduling issues for all sports and those decisions would be made in the coming weeks. An annual cross-divisional football rival has not yet been chosen for Mizzou. Arkansas and Texas A&M are the leading candidates.
Those are some of the detailed questions that will be answered in the weeks to come. As for the big picture, Mizzou ended a history with the Big 12 and its predecessor conferences that had lasted more than a century. The reasons were simple. Deaton spoke of stability and the desire to be in a league where the future was known.
Slive said the SEC has no exit fees and in the league bylaws, "the part about leaving is about half a sentence long ... If you don't want to be with us, you can leave. And nobody has left."
Missouri will be a full member of the SEC from day one in all aspects.
"That is one of the hallmarks of this league," Slive said. "When you are a member of the SEC, you are a member in every sense of the word."
As for what Mizzou is leaving behind, Mike Alden thanked the Big 12 and wished its members the best in the future. Not all those members did the same to Mizzou.
"We're sorry to see a century-old conference rivalry end. Missouri's decision may have implications for fans and for the Kansas City area, but it won't affect the long-term strength of the Big 12," University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in an official statement.
"It's certainly our desire and our hope to continue to participate against the University of Kansas in every sport we play for the next 119 years," Alden said in response.
Whether that happens is unknown. The schools will play through this year in the Big 12. The contract for a football game at Arrowhead Stadium runs through the 2012 season; however an official at Mizzou told it is not yet clear how binding the contract is or whether there would be a buyout due from Kansas if the Jayhawks chose to end the game because it has always been a regularly scheduled conference matchup.
But in Columbia, it was not a day of looking back, nor a day of worrying about the small uncertainties that may lie ahead.
"This is an opportunity to fulfill our expectations, our promise and our potential," Deaton said. "In a way we have not had the opportunity in the past to do."
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Video highlights from Sunday's events
Column: Burden of proof falls to fans
Column: Where Missouri's been, where it's going